Occasionally readers ask me where I find the weird characters that populate my novels. I think they’re wondering if I’m a little nuts myself.

We can assume I have a few screws loose because I choose to write novels. That confessed, let’s move on to my characters.

Several years ago, my daughter, an environmental activist, invited me to breakfast with an activist friend of hers whose “forest” name is Roadkill. Roadkill wears the skins of animals he finds beside the road and tans himself. He was (and is still) truly a character, who teaches brain tanning and friction fire starting. My daughter, by the way, is known as Frog. 

That delightful meal and introduction led to my first novel, Mustard’s Last Stand, set in North Idaho. I love that part of my former home state. The lakes are deep and the forests majestic and the populace is sprinkled with plenty of loons. The human kind.

In Mustard’s Last Stand, a failing screenwriter joins his oddball brother Roadkill to save safari animals on land once owned by the Mustard family. A serendipitous meeting with a unique individual inspired an entire novel.

The premise is admittedly absurd: No one would think of establishing a safari camp filled with African animals and retired zoo animals in chilly North Idaho. It made for a lot of fun, however, and believe it or not, some folks have asked me if zebras really live in Idaho. (They don’t.)

“Canned hunts” for elk, deer and many kinds of wild birds do exist in Idaho and other states, and in my book I try to point out, with a little humor, some of their drawbacks. 

Roadkill played a smaller part in my second novel, Foul Wind, but he will be the protagonist in the third novel, that I’m setting in my new state of Arizona. 

It’s not often that characters appear that ready for fiction in real life, but keeping our ears and eyes open can help. In Mustard’s Last Stand, a character gets in trouble in Sears. Big trouble, involving a pair of Vise-grips and a sore tooth and far too many uppers (and I’m not talking upper teeth). I once worked at Sears, selling vacuums and sewing machines. During a slow period another salesman told me about someone who came into a Sears store with a toothache and left with a lot more pain.

Most of the other characters I dream up are products of my imagination—I don’t name them after my family members and I don’t pattern them (at least not consciously) after family or friends. But sure enough, my daughter announced that she knew who she was in Mustard’s Last Stand. Really? I’m planning to use her as the model for a character in my third book and I have no doubt she will wonder why she was left out of that book.

HINT TO WRITERS: You can use the personality traits of that former boss or ex you want to kill off in a novel as long as you disguise them in another physical body: the opposite sex or a different ethnicity, for example. Most readers won’t recognize themselves because we all see ourselves differently than others perceive us.

Bio Information:

Kathy McIntosh is a reformed hi-tech marketer and former columnist on words and writing for The Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California and spent 30 years in Idaho, so she’s familiar with both urban and rural kookiness.
Kathy’s irrepressible wit and writing helped her be chosen one of Idaho’s top three emerging fiction writers in 2014. Since then her wanderlust and a few pratfalls on ice landed her in a sunnier clime in Tucson.


Facebook author page:  www.facebook.com/kathymcintoshauthor


Kathy McIntosh said…
Thanks for welcoming me today, Marilyn! I hope others will chat about where they find their characters.
Hi Kathy,

Roadkill? Frog? You know way more colorful people than I do! This sounds like such an entertaining, fun book. I confess I often use characteristics of real people I know to populate my mysteries as well. Of course, the best one was my daughter-in-law's cat from hell who ended up a character in three different short stories.
Conda Douglas said…
My best part of your great post was how to "use" people you know. Disguise is absolutely necessary, because, yes, I have used ex-bosses as characters. And ex-boyfriends, my pets, etc. etc. Most, if not all, have been, um, eccentric--oh heck, straight out crazy!

Wait, what does that say about me? Hmmm.
Kathy McIntosh said…
Wow, Jacquie, must have been some cat! And it gives me an idea for a story about my cat named Hair. Hmmm.
Kathy McIntosh said…
Thanks for stopping by Conda, and sharing about your character sources. If we exagerrate the traits, even the most prosaic of our friends can be the model for characters.
Susan Coryell said…
Great interview. I, too, relish the quirky characters. Thanks for the tip--don't reveal too much about a former boss if you plan to skewer (or murder) him or her in your WIP. Disguise the evil one! Good luck with your unique take on the novel and its inhabitants.
Fun post. Almost all my characters have bits and pieces of people I know. No one has ever recognized themselves except for one friend who begged to be a character, I described her to a T and gave her a new name. All of her friends said I got her exactly right. That was fun and she' actually played bit parts in two more books--much to her delight.
Nikki said…
Lots of fun, Kathy, and thanks for the advice about ex-bosses. Like Marilyn, I tend to blend and/or exaggerate from real people, although I have used one couple as themselves, in minor roles. They loved it. But I made sure to check with them before I submitted the novel so they'd have no objections.
J Q Rose said…
You are definitely having too much fun writing your stories, Kathy! Ha..but isn't that what writing is supposed to be? Fun? And transforming people you know into characters in your book can be a lot of laughs...if they only knew, huh? Enjoyed your post.
Kathy McIntosh said…
Out all day at a Sisters in Crime meeting, where Shannon Baker revealed that she's "murdered" her ex many times in her novels.
Nikki, I got permission from the original Roadkill and sent him a book, but he's never told me if he liked or hated my portrayal!
Thanks to all of you for dropping by.
J.Q. I DO have fun, most of the time. And you're right, we should enjoy our profession.
Kathy McIntosh said…
Thanks again for putting out the welcome mat.
I think it is cool that you got to put a friend in your novels, at her request. I've named a couple of restaurants/stores after some friends' last names.
Tombstone Rose said…
What imaginative characters. I'd love to meet Roadkill. Or maybe not.

Hope you enjoyed Sisters in Crime Meeting.
Mary Ball
Kathy McIntosh said…
Hi, Mary! Had a great time, as usual at Tucson Sisters in Crime.
Thanks for stopping by.
Betty Gordon said…
Kathy, I enjoyed your blog. Roadkill!!!! WOW! Your imagination flows beyond borders. Good job.
Kathy McIntosh said…
Thanks for stopping by. Actually Roadkill is what the real man actually calls himself. At a conference where I spoke, a woman rushed up afterward and announced that she's met the real Roadkill at a conference on primitive living, where Jeff (Roakill) teaches flint fire starting and brain tanning.

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